Yet another Call of Duty...
We can see where fans are coming from, CoD is a franchise which is just going on-and-on at the moment, with no sign of there being much in the way of innovation nor a definite end to the series and rather like Final Fantasy, the next game is never the last. Yet we actually quite like this iteration of CoD since we enjoyed Black Ops a lot.
Black Ops 2 is a definite step in the right direction for the CoD franchise and there are several reasons why. As per usual you won't find any story based spoilers here and all you get are the facts about the game. A game which is built on an older engine which is starting to show its age a lot now, yet still manages to be the most fun out of all of the Modern Warfare style games out there.
The story is going to change at various points during the game based on what you do and the choices you make in the campaign. There are reoccurring characters and themes from Black Ops and rather than make you play the son of Alex Mason from Black Ops, you get to play as Mason x2 one in the 1980's and the other in 2025. The narrative is a bit sketchy but works overall and the game introduces actions/consequences as you play and make key choices which will lead to numerous multiple endings.
The core shooting mechanics of CoD Black Ops 2 have not changed since CoD Black Ops or Modern Warfare. They remain the same and rely on a mix of corridor based shooting, open battlefields, set pieces and a few surprises here and there which we won't spoil at all. The shooting mechanics might not have changed but the way in which the player is engaged into the various levels has been altered to provide a change-up to the old style gameplay, keeping things fairly fresh and providing a much more interesting single player campaign this time around.
The leap between the 1980's and 2025 lets you experience the old school weapons of the 80's and play around with some emergent future-tech of 2025. There's also a pre-mission customisation screen which lets you build a solid arsenal of favourite firearms and customise them to your own play style. You can add select fire to a weapon, a new scope, and so on - with challenges during the campaign providing a way to unlock further features.
Challenges vary between the simple kills, to taking down a helo without using a lock-on feature of a rocket launcher and so on. Levels can be replayed to unlock more features through challenges.
There are also key points during the game where you need to make choices which will affect the game later on, as well as defining moments for the ending - this does hint to the game having a branching storyline. Similar, but not as a complex as the Witcher 2 in that regard, it is a welcome step towards a better game for the series. Treyarch seem to be firmly in control of this iteration of CoD compared to the Modern Warfare stable and have attempted something different with Black Ops 2.
We're talking about Strike Force missions, sadly they're not as engaging as we'd hoped and they do provide a tangible bonus to the campaign later on in the game. So they're not something that you can skip lightly, whilst you can engage with them at any time until x-missions have passed in the single player, you can't opt to skip out of them completely and just get on with the story without losing their reward. The problem with Strike Force is that RTS and shooters are a tricky thing to manage and when you have very basic AI it becomes a pain in the ass to play, compared to being a fun diversion you can enjoy.
In the case of Strike Force missions - the RTS style controls are a let down and you need to assume direct control of units to get the job done. This leads to a feeling of frustration since you're not being backed up by competent allies.
Apart from these changes Black Ops 2 is a slick shooter with a lot of nice new toys to play with. The game uses solid set pieces to provide a break in the corridor/outdoor battles rather than prolonged turret sessions which seem to be the staple of games like these.
Black Ops 2 and the CoD engine are showing their age these days compared to other titles, yet they're still pretty decent looking games which offer a fairly reasonable level of visuals. The human characters are looking a bit better than they did before, but the shadows in the game could do with a lot more work. The level of special effects and lighting isn't bad but again the engine is showing its age sadly. Some of the textures lose their fidelity over distance and there's definitely some tearing now and then.
The animations for Black Ops 2 are solid, there's a good level of detail to the movement and interaction between characters, environments and vehicles. The weapon reloads and animations are also pretty good with a lot more detail to the various weapons themselves.
The engine has been tweaked to allow for water-flow physics in some levels, vehicle handling is much better and the physics in general are improved from Black Ops.
The AI is a true mixed bag which could do with some improvements in general especially in Strike Force missions. When it works, it works really well, when it falls down then you're going to be left in near-impossible odds without backup. We are pretty sure they'll be AI fixes in a patch though - at least we hope there will be.
Good quality sound throughout with a nice level of audio mix, there are no issues with ambient audio whatsoever. Some of the weapon sounds could do with a little improvement but these are only minor niggles.
Trent Reznor has done a few tracks for the soundtrack, and the rest is a pretty solid bunch of scores which evoke the various levels quite nicely. The music fits like a glove in many places and there's just the right amount of drama for the various set pieces with some great crescendo pieces later on.
There are some good solid performances here and some which don't quite gel. The main characters are all pretty good and some of the bit part actors are phoning their lines in. All in all though the voice work is decent.
There are some lines which are a little ott to say the least, some of the dialogue is written in a way which makes it come across as forced and a little more polish for the script/story would have gone a long way to making the game even better.
This is where Treyarch have really pulled out all the stops, they've made a lot of changes - many of them too numerous to document here because it would take quite a few pages. There are now numerous ways to enjoy the multiplayer of the game, with ranked matches, skill levels based on wins/losses rather than kills/death ratios and a few other things.
The Perk system has been reworked, there are new toys to play with, new abilities to earn and everything just feels much better - it's also far more geared to the team player than the lone wolf this time around, with you earning points just for helping out in minor ways. It is certainly the best iteration of multiplayer yet and takes the crown from Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare series.
We really like the change to the loadout system, letting you craft your ultimate soldier by spending 10 points to stock up on weapons/perks/and so on. This system is one of the best we've seen in CoD yet.
Scorestreaks are better too, with the points powering them and even the weakest player will be able to get at least a few small streaks in a match.
The new tech which Black Ops 2 brings to the field is fun and easy to use, with some of the toys providing a distinct but never overpowered advantage to the player/team.
The usual game type suspects return, with a multi-team deathmatch, a mode called hardpoint which is basically King of the Hill with roaming territories to capture/hold. Then you have online matches, offline, split-screen and all of these can be played with bots so you can practice and team up with your friends against the AI if you're looking for some compstomping action or you're fedup of playing with human players.
Finding/creating/joining a mp game is quick and easy, there's virtually no lag and the experience is definitely the best we've come across yet.
Then you have Zombies mode which has been changed a little to provide more fun for the players, with the game now having 4 separate modes.
The CodCaster lets you spectate/commentate on matches, great for clans and professional play. CoD Elite is now free, and easier to use than ever before. There's even a better Theatre mode taking a leaf out of the Halo 4 playbook and allowing you to record your matches to share online and watch later for tactical reasons.
14 new maps with Nuketown 2025 coming as DLC...
The new maps have better lines of sight, great places for ambushes and tight action as well as some really nice long range engagements suited to HQ style play.
There's just that much in multiplayer we can't cover it all, but it makes this iteration of CoD the best multiplayer experience yet!
For a series which is heading towards the stale territory, we think Black Ops 2 innovates just enough to make us interested in the franchise again and certainly provides enough meat to hang on the gameplay bones - Treyarch has done the franchise proud again and proven they have stepped up to the mark and beyond with this iteration.